There are dollars available to help farmers establish conservation practices, but there is also plenty of demand for those dollars. Planning ahead can be important.
“For most of these programs there’s a waiting list,” says Rick Robinson, environmental policy advisor for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.
Still, the waits are not endless and most farmers can take advantage of either grants or cost-share programs to help install conservation structures or implement new conservation practices.
The federal government has several funding programs implemented through the USDA, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) or the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is also still useful for many farmers, Robinson said. And many states have state conservation cost-share programs as well.
In Iowa, for example, the EQIP program in 2018 included 1,649 contracts for $34.6 million covering 187,000 acres. The CSP featured 499 contracts for $28.6 million covering 264,000 acres.
A five-year review of Natural Resources Conservation Service programs in Iowa from 2013 through 2017 showed coverage for cover crops, waste storage facilities for livestock, grade stabilization structures, roofs and covers for some facilities, terraces, farmstead energy improvements, fencing and streambank protection. A variety of other practices such as no-till, underground outlets, fencing and planting on critical areas are partially funded by USDA programs.
Sometimes specific weather conditions, such as flooding or drought, will lead to a specific practice or structure being approved for an area, says Jason Johnson, a public affairs specialist with the USDA’s NRCS in Iowa.
One example of that is cover crop and livestock watering system improvements approved in parts of southeastern Iowa last year due to drought conditions.
“Those are still good long-term practices,” Johnson says, but they may move higher up the priority list for approval due to conditions on the ground.
It’s possible that the flooding in Nebraska and western Iowa could influence the type of practices and structures or the areas which get funding in the coming months or years.
Johnson says NRCS is still waiting for information regarding the 2018 farm bill passed in December. And Congress must still approve some funding for programs included in that legislation.
One upcoming deadline is May 10, when applications are due for some CSP cost-share programs.
Other groups offer options to help offset the cost of conservation practices. The Iowa Department of Agriculture worked with the USDA Risk Management Agency, which oversees the federal crop insurance program, to establish a three-year demonstration project aimed at expanding the usage of cover crops in Iowa. Some farmers who planted cover crops were eligible for a $5 per acre premium reduction on their crop insurance.